When Karen and I first walked in Tasmania in the late eighties, the Walls of Jerusalem had achieved an almost mythical status amongst hikers. Anybody could tackle the Overland Track, but only true adventurers attempted the Walls.
They are situated to the east of the Cradle Mountain - Lake St. Clair national park on the north-west corner of Tasmania's central plateau, forming a part of the Great Western Tiers. Their reputation has probably resulted from the number of deaths from exposure attributed to the region. Unlike the Cradle Mountain - Lake St. Clair national park where the majority of walking is done below one thousand metres and peaks climb up to sixteen hundred metres, the plateau on which the Walls of Jerusalem stand is about twelve hundred metres high, although the mountains only rise a couple of hundred metres above this level.
As a result, the Walls are not as spectacular as their more famous neighbour, but their elevation and lack of huts for shelter make them potentially far more dangerous. Even so, the area is scenic and impressive and of a completely different character to other Tasmanian national parks. It comprises a central valley surrounded by five mountains which is reached via a number of passes.
Many of the features in the Cradle Mountain - Lake St. Clair national park have Greek counterparts, such as Mount Olympus, The Acropolis, the Parthenon, Cephissus Creek and the Narcissus Hut, but the Walls have adopted an entirely different theme. Although originally appearing on maps as the China Walls, its current name soon came into favour and from then on many of the features in the Walls of Jerusalem took on names of biblical significance. The passes through the surrounding mountains are referred to as "gates", with names such as Herod's Gate, Ephraim's Gate, Jaffa Gate and Damascus Gate. The mountains include the Temple, the Wailing Wall, Zion Hill and Mount Jerusalem. The theme is continued with lake names like the Pool of Siloam, the Pool of Bethesda and Lake Salome.
Cushion plants on the way to Herod's Gate
While the names added to the other-worldliness of the Walls and enhanced its reputation, the reality was fairly benign. The bus dropped us at the track head late in the morning and we had soon climbed up to the plateau. From that point on, most of the hard work had already been done. The Walls in the good weather we experienced can only be described as gentle, with easy gradients, low peaks and open valleys. By evening we had established our campsite in the shelter of some stunted trees just below the Pool of Bethesda. A short walk to the pool immediately paid dividends when another group of campers pointed out a platypus searching for its dinner in the clear, shallow water. Karen and I were amazed. The last platypus we had seen had been in a tropical Queensland river, a completely different habitat to a freezing, alpine pool.
The following day was overcast but the clouds were high, promising a dry day. Karen and I set off early for a day of exploration, climbing to Damascus Gate, the saddle between the Wailing Wall and the Temple and descending slightly to a rustic and rudimentary hut known as Dixon's Kingdom.
Next came the Jaffa Gate and a walk up the shoulder of Mount Jerusalem to its summit where a magnificent and totally unexpected vista awaited us. Below us was spread the Central Plateau, an area of about five hundred square kilometres thickly dotted with lakes - four thousand of them!
It was a stunning scene. Karen and I had never heard about the lakes of the Central Plateau, let alone seen a photograph of the area. We could not understand how such an amazing geographical feature could be kept secret from us. Some places we had seen we had expected to be awesome, like Ayer's Rock or the Bungle Bungles, but it is the totally unexpected yet awesome scene that simply takes our breath away. It had happened at Ormiston Pound, and now it had happened again.
This photo of the lakes does not do the scene justice
We descended the mountain and passed through the Gate of the Chain, skirting the rim of the valley below Zion Hill to the Pool of Siloam. Hundreds of sundews covered the ground near the pool, their sticky hairs waiting patiently for an insect to blunder into their traps. We watched as a dragonfly made a frantic but futile attempt to escape the grip of one of these fascinating carnivorous plants.
With our walk almost complete, Karen and I crossed the boggy plain at the head of Lake Salome and rejoined the walking track which led up to our campsite. As we ate our late lunch, looking across at the face of the West Wall opposite us, I suggested to Karen that we go for a climb, pointing out a likely route up a gully. At fourteen hundred and ninety metres, the West Wall is the highest mountain in the park, an irresistible temptation to a peak-bagger like me. Karen declined my invitation, so in the late afternoon I set out across the valley alone.
It did not take me long to scramble up the gully to a broad plateau, where a walk of about half a kilometre to the north took me to the high point of the mountain. To the west, all of the mountains of the Cradle Mountain - Lake St. Clair national park stood silhouetted against the sky, from Cradle Mountain and Barn Bluff in the north, through Pelion West and Mount Ossa, the highest mountain in Tasmania, to the Acropolis and Mt Olympus in the south. It was amazing to look at the scene and realise that it had taken five whole days to walk from up there to down there.
The West Wall and Lake Salome from Mt Jerusalem
The next day we walked out of the park, retracing our steps of the first day to re-board the bus once it had dropped off another load of walkers bound for the Walls. Some of them seemed to regard Karen and myself with more respect than we normally receive, perhaps a sign that braving the Walls of Jerusalem is still considered more than a mere stroll in the park.